In between trading Jordan Staal, Zybnek Michalek and clearing all kinds of salary cap space in hopes of being active with free agents, the Penguins managed to select nine players during this past weekend's draft.
Going against a few trends in recent seasons, the Penguins selected a few Europeans and a few goaltenders. One trend which they didn't waver from was going after defense as they selected three, including two in the first round.
After the draft Saturday, assistant general manager Jason Botterill (right) spoke about selecting Europeans, adding some goaltending and the value of defense.
You selected four European born players in this draft. In the previous six years, you drafted six. Was there a conscious decision to explore more European players?
"No. And honestly with our staff, it’s a situation where you’re just looking for the best player available and with the global nature of our sport, they come from all over the place. I think that’s what makes me excited about it. We’ve done a good job of trying to have a good well-rounded (scouting) staff whether it’s in Europe or North America and I think you saw that with our picks. We’re taking players from a bunch of different regions. I thought we had a good balance of defensemen, forwards and goaltending in this draft."
You selected two goaltenders, Matthew Murray (right) in the third round and Sean Maguire in the fourth round. Was that to address a dearth at that position organizationally?
"Murray’s played in some international competitions. He’s been a guy our (scouts) have followed very closely. And a guy like Maguire going to a top end school like (Boston University). Maybe be there for a couple more years. It’s a situation where we have Marc-Andre Fleury. Excited about solidifying our back up position with Tomas Vokoun. But we wanted to have to have more goalies coming through our system and I think that’s the main reason why we made the selections there."
First rounder Olli Matta, second rounder Theodor Blueger and sixth rounder Anton Zlobin are European-born players who have played in North America. Does seeing a player come to this continent and play on a smaller ice surface improve his stock?
"I think it makes the transition easier. You don’t have the question marks. You see a player in Europe, you’re always wondering how is he going to adapt to the smaller ice surfaces of the North American game. (Zlobin’s) come over and to me, he shows a willingness to be over here and improve his game. Get accustomed to the culture over here. The same thing with Olli Maatta. Being able to come over here and improve his game, that’s huge. That’s a big step for him. But I think for a lot of these prospects, whatever their nationality; they’re coming from strong programs. Zlobin played in the Memorial Cup. Matta played in the Memorial Cup. (First-rounder Derrick) Pouliot playing in Portland. All of these guys played in big games throughout the year. Obviously what we’re trying to do here in Pittsburgh is win championship and its good that these guys have that pedigree."
Fourth rounder Matia Marcantuoni (right) suffered an upper-body injury last season. Did that impact his stock?
"He played in the (Ivan) Hlinka Tournament last summer. He was one of the players who was obviously very highly rated. Had some injury "problems. We try did our due diligence on making sure he recovered from those injuries. I’m sure it impacted his stock and his draft position. We were extremely comfortable where we selected him. Has great speed. Has high compete. Plays the way we like our forwards to play. We look forward to seeing him in a couple of weeks in our development camp."
You selected Oskar Sundqvist of Sweden in the third round. Why has there has been surge of Swedes drafted in recent seasons?
"The popularity of the sport over there continues to grow. The success the have on the international stage. I think they’ve done a very good job in their development programs from their youth hockey all the way up to the national team. Oskar is a player who is probably a little bit more under the radar but he was a player who is certainly developing. Another player too who dealt with some injuries at the start of the year. But we feel with his size and his skills, there’s a lot of opportunity for growth in his game."
Going into this draft, it was forcasted as a defense-heavy pool of players. That seems to be what happened.
"That’s certainly how it played out. You see it in free agency. You hear the talk non-stop, every team seems to be looking for another defenseman. The importance of having a strong (defense). We’ve see it here in our organization. The need and the result of developing our defenseman whether it’s Kris Letang or Deryk Engelland or the new players such as Simon Despres (right) or Brian Strait, there’s a lot of value for defensemen in the market. If you find a way to develop these guys, you’re going to have success. Whether they play for your own team or you move them for other assets such as Chris Kunitz or James Neal, they’re assets you want to get in your organization. The only way to get that most of the time is through the draft."
(Photos: Botterill-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Murray and Marcantuoni-Jamie Sabau/Getty Images; Despres-Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)